The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would increase the penalties for drivers who pass school buses when the buses are loading or unloading passengers. The bill has passed the House of Representatives and now awaits action by the Senate Transportation Committee.
Drivers should remember the rules from basic driver’s education classes, and the bill would not change them. Drivers going in any direction must stop for a school bus that is stopped if the bus’s mechanical stop sign is extended or its red warning lights are flashing. No driver may move, pass or attempt to pass the bus until the flashing lights go off, the stop sign is withdrawn and the bus has started to move.
The proposal includes penalties that increase with the severity of the violation. Passing illegally will still be a misdemeanor, but the driver will have to pay a $500 fine. A driver who illegally passes a bus and strikes a person must pay $2,500 and will be charged with a felony; if the victim dies, the level of felony increases and the fine goes up to $5,000. A felony conviction will also mean a revoked license for two or three years.
Repeat offenders would face serious consequences as well. Two misdemeanor charges within three years will result in a one-year license revocation. A second felony conviction within the driver’s lifetime will result in permanent revocation.
The school buses in question must be transporting children, school personnel or, in some circumstances, senior citizens and must be clearly marked as school buses. The law applies to drivers regardless of age or type of license, including commercial. Only one exception exists: Vehicles going in the opposite direction of the school bus on a divided road or highway need not stop.
If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the governor, it will become effective December 1, 2013. Violations that occur on or after that date will be subject to the new penalty schedule.
Source: General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2013, House Bill 428: “North Carolina School Bus Safety Act,” Committee Substitute Favorable May 13, 2013, accessed online May 30, 2013